Microplastics: Their Prevalence, Health Effects, and How to Avoid Them


Microplastics are tiny plastic fragments that have become a widespread concern due to their extensive presence in the environment and potential impact on human health. In this article, we provide an in-depth exploration of what microplastics are, their presence in our surroundings, potential health impacts, and strategies for reducing exposure and eliminating them from our system.


What are Microplastics?

microplastics in ocean


Microplastics are defined as plastic particles smaller than five millimeters in diameter. They can be broken down from larger plastic debris or manufactured at a microscopic size for use in products such as cosmetics and industrial abrasives. These minuscule pollutants are not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, posing a significant threat to wildlife and ecosystems. (1)


The Pervasiveness of Microplastics


The prevalence of microplastics in the environment has become alarmingly clear. They have been found in the deepest ocean trenches, the most remote mountain lakes, and even in Arctic ice. However, their presence is not limited to natural settings; microplastics have also been detected in food, tap and bottled water, and even the air we breathe. Their small size allows them to be ingested by a wide range of organisms, including plankton, fish, and, through the food chain, potentially humans.


Microplastics in the Human Body

microplastics in the body


Research into the entry and accumulation of microplastics in the human body is a developing area of science. Studies have already detected these tiny plastics in various body parts, including organs like the stomach and intestines, where they could enter through the food we eat. They've also been found in blood samples, which raises the possibility that microplastics can travel throughout the body and potentially reach organs such as the lungs and brain. (2) Pregnant women are of particular concern, as there's emerging evidence that microplastics can cross the barrier to the placenta, potentially impacting fetal development. (3)


Scientists are now trying to determine how much microplastics people typically ingest or inhale and the specific routes these particles take once they're inside the body. Are they excreted, or do they accumulate? If they do build up, what levels become harmful? 


These questions are critical as the average diet, air, and even bottled water can contain microplastics. Researchers estimate that people could be consuming thousands of microplastic particles every week, with still unknown implications for long-term health. (4)


Potential Health Effects


The potential health effects of microplastics are a growing concern for scientists and public health experts. These plastics are not inert; they can absorb and carry other pollutants with them, like pesticides and heavy metals, into the body. Once ingested, microplastics have the potential to release these toxic substances, which can cause oxidative stress and cellular damage. Additionally, the physical presence of plastics within the body could lead to irritation and inflammation, conditions that often precede chronic diseases. (5)


There are also concerns that microplastics may impact hormone levels and the endocrine system, which controls many different bodily functions. If microplastics mimic, block, or interfere with hormones, they could potentially disrupt processes ranging from metabolism to reproduction. Furthermore, the long-term effects of chronic exposure to microplastics, through consumption of contaminated foods or through the air, could potentially contribute to the development of more serious diseases, though this link has yet to be definitively proven.


Scientists are working to better understand the mechanisms by which microplastics might cause harm, and regulatory bodies are beginning to consider how to evaluate the risks associated with microplastics in our environment. However, given the relatively recent recognition of the issue, much of the research is in preliminary stages, and comprehensive studies are needed to confirm and clarify the potential health effects of microplastics on humans.


How to Avoid Microplastics

avoiding microplastics


Avoiding microplastics is becoming increasingly important as their prevalence in our ecosystem and daily lives becomes more apparent. Here are several practical steps you can take. 


1. Avoid Plastic Packaging


When shopping, choosing products with glass or metal packaging can greatly cut down the accumulation of plastics that eventually break down into microplastics. These materials are more likely to be recycled and do not degrade into harmful particles over time.


2. Wear Clothing With Natural Fibers


In our wardrobes, opting for clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, linen, or hemp can significantly reduce the release of microplastic fibers that are shed during the washing of synthetic fabrics. These natural materials are not only better for the environment but also often more durable and sustainable.


3. Use Natural Personal Care Products


In terms of personal care, avoiding products containing "microbeads," which are often found in exfoliating face or body scrubs, is crucial. Reading labels and selecting items marked as free from polyethylene, polypropylene, and polymethyl methacrylate — the chemical names for plastics commonly used in these products — can decrease the flow of microplastics into our water systems.


4. Filter Your Tap Water


Another thing you can do to mitigate your exposure to microplastics is to filter your tap water. Filters that are specifically designed to capture microplastics can significantly reduce the number of particles in the water we drink and use daily. While not all filters are created equal, investing in one with a high-efficiency rating for particle removal can make a substantial difference.


Aside from these direct actions, you can also reduce microplastic pollution by supporting and engaging in environmental clean-up efforts, advocating for policies that limit single-use plastics, and backing industries and initiatives that are developing biodegradable alternatives. 


Microplastic Water Bottles

plastic water bottles


One unexpected source of microplastics is water bottles. Research indicates that single-use and even reusable plastic water bottles can leach microplastics into the water. To minimize this risk, it is recommended to use water bottles made from materials that are less prone to degradation, such as stainless steel, glass, or certified safe plastics.


How to Reduce Microplastics in the Body


Once microplastics enter the body, it's not entirely clear how they can be eliminated. The body's natural waste removal processes may expel some particles, but others could be retained. Dietary choices that promote detoxification, such as high-fiber foods, might aid in their removal. However, the most effective strategy is preventing ingestion in the first place.


That being said, there is something you can do to combat the effects that microplastics may have on the body. Plastics are often made with synthetic estrogen compounds. When consumed, these can impact your own hormonal balance. Certain herbs and compounds can help to support the body's natural detoxification processes in dealing with these endocrine disruptors. 


Our Endocrine Cleanse & Support Tonic, featuring a blend of fenugreek, chaste tree, sarsaparilla, alfalfa, gotu kola, and ginkgo, is designed with this purpose in mind. Fenugreek extract, in particular, may assist the body in eliminating unwanted synthetic compounds. Together, these herbs work synergistically to promote a healthy hormonal balance, providing a natural solution to mitigate the impact of environmental toxins on the body.


Microplastic Detox and Cleanse


While the idea of a microplastic detox or cleanse is appealing, there is currently no scientifically proven method to remove microplastics from the body. Instead, efforts should be directed towards reducing overall exposure, supporting the body's natural detoxification processes, and supporting endocrine system balance to mitigate the hormonal impact of microplastic exposure.


How to Get Rid of Microplastics in the Environment


Eliminating microplastics from the environment is a daunting task that will require global cooperation. Strategies include improving waste management systems to prevent plastic from entering waterways, developing materials that can break down more safely in the environment, and cleaning up existing pollution in our oceans and rivers.


Bottom Line


Microplastics are small plastic particles that are turning up everywhere in our environment, from our oceans to the food we eat and even the air we breathe. While research on their effects is ongoing, they may pose a risk to our health, especially our hormones, because they can act like fake estrogens. To lower the chances of these plastics getting into your body, go for glass or metal containers, pick clothes made from natural fibers, use personal care items without tiny plastic beads and synthetic chemicals, and use water filters that can catch plastics. While we figure out more about how these plastics affect us and how to get them out of our bodies, making smart choices now can help reduce how many of these tiny plastics we come into contact with every day.









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